Harry Kane and the End of the Line

Presumably, Daniel Levy was going for a more flattering vibe. One day last month, Levy, the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, told the students of the Cambridge University Union that he hoped a statue of Harry Kane would stand outside the club’s stadium one day, possibly its greatest-ever striker immortalized in bronze.

Levy was, surely, simply trying to illustrate the scale of Kane’s achievements, the esteem in which he is held, the status he has accrued at the club he supported as a child and has frequently carried as an adult. It was merely unfortunate that it came across as just a little bit like emotional blackmail.

This is, of course, a pivotal summer for Kane. At the end of June, he will formally enter the final 12 months of the six-year contract he signed at Tottenham on the eve of the World Cup in 2018. A few weeks later, he will turn 30. If he is to leave Spurs, then it is hard to escape the impression that it is now or never.

On the surface, that decision should be an easy one. Kane is the England captain. Only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals than him in the Premier League, and he is already on Rooney’s shoulder, waiting to breeze past. Kane is the sort of forward who would slot easily into any team. He can play as a focal point, he can act as a poacher, but by inclination he is a playmaker, too. He is, in essence, a false False Nine.

There would, then, be no shortage of teams willing to take on his — by the standards of his peers — relatively reasonable salary. Bayern Munich has long admired Kane, in particular. Chelsea might be able to reunite him with Mauricio Pochettino. Manchester United, as things stand, has younger alternatives in mind, but if they were to prove unattainable and Kane was available, it hardly requires a great leap of imagination to suggest that might change.

Plenty of clubs would be happy to slot Kane into their plans, and their budget.Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Any and all of his suitors could offer him not only a lavish salary but a chance at the glory that has thus far eluded him, too. Bayern, certainly, would be almost a guarantee of trophies and medals in great, heaving piles. Chelsea, like Manchester United, has on several occasions in the recent past won competitions basically by accident. Tottenham, by contrast, can offer him a statue.

That, of course, is reductive. Kane’s leaving Spurs would not be a simple thing. Not just for his sincere, deep-rooted attachment to the club, but for more hard-nosed, professional reasons. Staying at Tottenham — or at least in England — would almost certainly allow Kane to surpass Shearer as the Premier League’s career scoring leader, an honor that may mean as much to him as winning a couple of Bundesliga titles. Besides, his yearning for a trophy may well come to an end with England at next year’s European Championship.

Increasingly, though, it appears it might be his only viable choice. Back in 2018, when Kane signed his current deal, the club filmed a short video to announce the news to delighted, relieved fans. In it, Kane was depicted in the control room of Tottenham’s new stadium. It had not yet opened. Nobody had played there, scored there, booed their team off there, demanded the chairman’s resignation there.

It was easy to see it as a package-fresh vision of Tottenham’s gleaming future, virgin and unsullied, a place of nothing but promise. Kane, having committed the prime of his career to the club — his club — saw only the potential. “I’m just excited to keep on the train,” he said, possibly misunderstanding the theme of the video, “and see where it can go.”

Initially, of course, it stayed on track. A year later, Spurs had made the Champions League final; Kane was playing for his childhood club and gracing the grandest stage European soccer can offer. Tottenham felt agonizingly close to becoming the final member of the Premier League’s dominant triumvirate, alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.

That was not quite what happened.

Kane has never won a trophy with Tottenham, the club he has supported since childhood.Credit…Scott Heppell/Reuters

In the summer when Kane signed his new contract, as Pochettino encouraged Levy to “be brave and take risks,” Tottenham did not sign a single new player. Eventually, that lack of reinforcements proved telling. Spurs’ form dipped. Pochettino was fired, a few months after leading it in the biggest game in the club’s history.

José Mourinho replaced him. Results briefly got better, then got worse again. He was fired a few days before a cup final. The club spent months without a manager, and then appointed Nuno Espirito Santo out of, well, desperation, really. It was not a success. He left, too.

Antonio Conte stepped in, complained long and loud about so many subjects that it became obvious his real gripe was with the indignity of coaching Spurs. In March, he finally talked himself out of a job. His former assistant was appointed the caretaker replacement. The man in charge of finding his long-term replacement was banned from soccer. Spurs duly conceded five goals in 20 minutes at Newcastle.

All that time, the club’s playing squad — the one that had brought Spurs to such prominence that the club was invited to be part of the European Super League, an insult that it seemed to regard as a compliment — has been decaying. Tottenham’s reputational stock, its appeal to potential recruits, has been tumbling.

It had taken years of painstaking work, not least from Levy, to turn Spurs into a meaningful force in England and Europe. It took about two seasons for it all to unravel completely.

Antonio Conte, one in a string of managers who couldn’t get Kane where he desperately wants to go.Credit…David Klein/Reuters

Once more, there will be a new manager this summer. The current front-runner, Julian Nagelsmann, seems perfectly tailored to what the club needs: still nauseatingly young, but possessed of considerable experience; keen to rehabilitate his image, so unlikely to feel Tottenham is lucky to have him; a purveyor of bright, attractive soccer; the owner of at least one skateboard.

Levy would doubtless hope that Nagelsmann’s appointment would be enough to convince Kane of the club’s seriousness, its ambition, its attractiveness. To believe that, though, the striker would have to ignore everything else he has seen in the five years since he signed his contract. All of the disappointments. All of the missed opportunities. All of the glaring strategic errors. Spurs might get the right manager. There is no evidence to suggest it will provide him with the players or the time or the environment he needs to succeed.

Kane’s statue outside the stadium that was supposed to represent the club’s transformation should not be dependent on whether he remains at Tottenham in perpetuity. He has already given the club more than enough to make the case for a monument in his honor. He has fulfilled his side of the bargain. He has lived up to his promise.

The same cannot be said for Spurs. Kane knows where this train is going; or, more pertinently, he knows where it is not. It will hardly fill him with glee, but he will know, without doubt, that this is his stop.

Your Happiness Is Not Guaranteed

Tottenham fans contemplating the long journey home from Newcastle.Credit…Lee Smith/Action Images, via Reuters

Tottenham’s players volunteering to reimburse those fans who had made the long journey to Newcastle — only to see their hapless, witless team fall 5-0 behind after 21 minutes — for the price of their tickets is a gesture rooted in the very finest of intentions. It is humble, generous, considerate. It speaks extremely well of them. It is, without question, A Nice Thing To Do.

Sadly, it is also completely wrongheaded. Newcastle is a long way from London, certainly by British standards. Depending on your preferred unit of measurement, it is 280 miles; three hours (at best) and your life savings by train; or two and a half weeks on the country’s traffic-clogged, potholed and pit-scarred roads by car.

Throw in the price of the ticket, and those Spurs fans would have committed a couple of hundred pounds and many hours of their lives to attend the game. That the players then turned in what must rank as one of the most inept performances of any club in the Premier League era must be galling to the point of offensive. That some of those fans should have gone public with a demand for refunds is an understandable reflex.

Unfortunately, that is not how sport is meant to work. A ticket to a sporting event is not a guarantee of satisfaction. There is a chance, when you go to see your team or your favorite athlete play, that they will lose. There is a slim chance, too, that they will be humiliated.

That is the risk that you take. The ticket gets you access to a sporting event, one in which the outcome and the nature of it is uncertain by definition. To expect or to demand a minimum standard of performance or your money back is, on one level, to miss the point of the entire exercise.

Fan, we are told frequently, should not be a synonym for customer. The entrenched loyalty of the supporter should not be taken for granted, should not monetized, should not be milked for revenue. But that precious bond, between fan and team, works both ways. You buy a ticket for a game to support your team regardless of what happens. It is an act of hope, not expectation.

That interpretation has withered, at least in part, because of the attitude of the clubs themselves; it should be no surprise that fans should start to behave as customers when they are treated as such. Customers demand a refund when their hopes are dashed. In any sport, though, that is just part of the deal.

Refreshing Change

Arsenal has at last succumbed to cold, harsh economic reality. The Premier League, really, should make sure to send a note of thanks and a bouquet of flowers to Mikel Arteta and his players at the end of this season’s campaign. It is only because of their sudden, heartening rise that English soccer has even had a veneer of competitiveness for the last 10 months.

The season, though, will end as recent seasons routinely do: with Manchester City being crowned champion. Doing anything other than wildly celebrating City’s success will be met, as ever, with accusations of bitterness and jealousy, of course, but then that has always been the flaw in Abu Dhabi’s master plan for the sporting arm of its foreign policy. As a rule, you can either win, or you can be loved. Rarely, if ever, do the two go together.

Elsewhere in Europe, though, things are a little more uplifting. This newsletter makes no bones about the fact that it is desperate to see Napoli win Serie A — perhaps as soon as this weekend — if only to answer, once and for all, the question of whether the city itself will survive the celebrations.

Dortmund, on track to dethrone Bayern Munich, will be one of a handful of surprise champions this season.Credit…Martin Meissner/Associated Press

But Luciano Spalletti’s team may not be the continent’s only unexpected champion. Feyenoord is eight points clear at the top of the Dutch Eredivisie, with only four games left. Ajax, at this rate, might not qualify for the Champions League. Either Panathinaikos or AEK Athens will win the Greek Super League, dethroning Olympiacos.

And, of course, Bayern Munich has kindly decided to self-detonate at just the right time to give Borussia Dortmund the chance to end Bayern’s run of 10 straight domestic championships. Dortmund is a point ahead with five games left, but three of those matches are at home, and none of them against especially daunting opponents. Its young team will never have a better chance, if it can hold its nerve.

Quite why this is happening is open to question: the World Cup, doubtless, has something to do with it. It may be, to some extent, because the financial might of the Premier League has had the effect of diminishing the great and the good of other domestic leagues. Whatever it is, though, it is to be welcomed, and not just by those who stand to benefit directly.


An intriguing question from Tony Walsh to start this week. “Does Italy not qualifying for the World Cup explain the country having three teams in the Champions League quarterfinals?” he asks, omitting (as I did, last week) that it also has two Europa League semifinalists and one representative still standing in the illustrious Europa Conference League.

My answer here is a resounding possibly. It might even be a probably. As with the sudden changes at the summit of the Bundesliga and the Eredivisie, the likelihood is that there are a rich variety of factors at play, but it seems rational to suggest that the added midseason rest for the vast majority of Napoli, Inter and A.C. Milan players has not been a hindrance.

Italy’s new slogan: Forza everybody.Credit…Alberto Pizzoli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The issue of how soccer might change rumbles on, too. Several of you, including Matt Kauffman, would tweak the offside rule so that it was judged only on foot position — this seems reasonable to me — while Brent Hewitt prefers using a player’s “center of mass,” though I would suggest the length of his email might undermine his idea’s viability.

Jim O’Mahony, on the other hand, offered at least one immortal sentence. “To hell with pleasing restless, bored teenagers,” he wrote, which is a sentiment I think anyone who has ever met a teenager can get behind. “The sport’s popularity is growing. There is no need to change. Stop worrying, and spend more time with your dog.”

My dog is very much on board with that idea, Jim: I’ve been trying to get him into games for a while by explaining that I am his emotional support human, but nobody seems to be buying it.

And thanks to Chloe Zeller, enjoying the last days of summer in Buenos Aires, for directing me to a mural of Lionel Messi — clad in his beloved bisht, and clutching the World Cup — in the city’s upscale Palermo district. It is, she notes, recorded on Google Maps as a “place of worship.” This seems entirely fitting.

Credit…Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA, via Shutterstock
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